The Little Prince - Chapter Twenty-two.
"Good morning," said the railway switchman.
"What do you do here?" the little prince asked.
"I sort out travelers, in bundles of a thousand," said the switchman. "I send off the trains that carry them; now to the right, now to the left."
And a brilliantly lighted express train shook the switchman's cabin as it rushed by with a roar like thunder.
"They are in a great hurry," said the little prince. "What are they looking for?"
"Not even the locomotive engineer knows that," said the switchman.
And a second brilliantly lighted express thundered by, in the opposite direction.
"Are they coming back already?" demanded the little prince.
"These are not the same ones," said the switchman. "It is an exchange."
"Were they not satisfied where they were?" asked the little prince.
"No one is ever satisfied where he is," said the switchman.
And they heard the roaring thunder of a third brilliantly lighted express.
"Are they pursuing the first travelers?" demanded the little prince.
"They are pursuing nothing at all," said the switchman. "They are asleep in there, or if they are not asleep they are yawning. Only the children are flattening their noses against the windowpanes."
"Only the children know what they are looking for," said the little prince. "They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; and if anybody takes it away from them, they cry..."
"They are lucky," the switchman said.
"Good morning," said the merchant.
This was a merchant who sold pills that had been invented to quench thirst. You need only swallow one pill a week, and you would feel no need of anything to drink.
"Why are you selling those?" asked the little prince.
"Because they save a tremendous amount of time," said the merchant. "Computations have been made by experts. With these pills, you save fifty-three minutes in every week."
"And what do I do with those fifty-three minutes?"
"Anything you like..."
"As for me," said the little prince to himself, "if I had fifty-three minutes to spend as I liked, I should walk at my leisure toward a spring of fresh water."
"Ah," I said to the little prince, "these memories of yours are very charming; but I have not yet succeeded in repairing my plane; I have nothing more to drink; and I, too, should be very happy if I could walk at my leisure toward a spring of fresh water!"
"My friend the fox--" the little prince said to me.
"My dear little man, this is no longer a matter that has anything to do with the fox!"
"Because I am about to die of thirst..."
He did not follow my reasoning, and he answered me:
"It is a good thing to have had a friend, even if one is about to die. I, for instance, am very glad to have had a fox as a friend..."
"He has no way of guessing the danger," I said to myself. "He has never been either hungry or thirsty. A little sunshine is all he needs..."
But he looked at me steadily, and replied to my thought:
"I am thirsty, too. Let us look for a well..."
I made a gesture of weariness. It is absurd to look for a well, at random, in the immensity of the desert. But nevertheless we started walking.
When we had trudged along for several hours, in silence, the darkness fell, and the stars began to come out. Thirst had made me a little feverish, and I looked at them as if I were in a dream. The little prince's last words came reeling back into my memory:
"Then you are thirsty, too?" I demanded.
But he did not reply to my question. He merely said to me:
"Water may also be good for the heart..."
I did not understand this answer, but I said nothing. I knew very well that it was impossible to cross-examine him.
He was tired. He sat down. I sat down beside him. And, after a little silence, he spoke again:
"The stars are beautiful, because of a flower that cannot be seen."
I replied, "Yes, that is so." And, without saying anything more, I looked across the ridges of sand that were stretched out before us in the moonlight.
"The desert is beautiful," the little prince added.
And that was true. I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams...
"What makes the desert beautiful," said the little prince, "is that somewhere it hides a well..."
I was astonished by a sudden understanding of that mysterious radiation of the sands. When I was a little boy I lived in an old house, and legend told us that a treasure was buried there. To be sure, no one had ever known how to find it; perhaps no one had ever even looked for it. But it cast an enchantment over that house. My home was hiding a secret in the depths of its heart...
"Yes," I said to the little prince. "The house, the stars, the desert-- what gives them their beauty is something that is invisible!"
"I am glad," he said, "that you agree with my fox."
As the little prince dropped off to sleep, I took him in my arms and set out walking once more. I felt deeply moved, and stirred. It seemed to me that I was carrying a very fragile treasure. It seemed to me, even, that there was nothing more fragile on all Earth. In the moonlight I looked at his pale forehead, his closed eyes, his locks of hair that trembled in the wind, and I said to myself: "What I see here is nothing but a shell. What is most important is invisible..."
As his lips opened slightly with the suspicious of a half-smile, I said to myself, again: "What moves me so deeply, about this little prince who is sleeping here, is his loyalty to a flower-- the image of a rose that shines through his whole being like the flame of a lamp, even when he is asleep..." And I felt him to be more fragile still. I felt the need of protecting him, as if he himself were a flame that might be extinguished by a little puff of wind...
And, as I walked on so, I found the well, at daybreak.
And he added:
"It is not worth the trouble..."
The well that we had come to was not like the wells of the Sahara. The wells of the Sahara are mere holes dug in the sand. This one was like a well in a village. But there was no village here, and I thought I must be dreaming...
"It is strange," I said to the little prince. "Everything is ready for use: the pulley, the bucket, the rope..."
He laughed, touched the rope, and set the pulley to working. And the pulley moaned, like an old weathervane which the wind has long since forgotten.
"Do you hear?" said the little prince. "We have wakened the well, and it is singing..."
I did not want him to tire himself with the rope.
"Leave it to me," I said. "It is too heavy for you."
I hoisted the bucket slowly to the edge of the well and set it there-- happy, tired as I was, over my achievement. The song of the pulley was still in my ears, and I could see the sunlight shimmer in the still trembling water.
"I am thirsty for this water," said the little prince. "Give me some of it to drink..."
And I understood what he had been looking for.
I raised the bucket to his lips. He drank, his eyes closed. It was as sweet as some special festival treat. This water was indeed a different thing from ordinary nourishment. Its sweetness was born of the walk under the stars, the song of the pulley, the effort of my arms. It was good for the heart, like a present. When I was a little boy, the lights of the Christmas tree, the music of the Midnight Mass, the tenderness of smiling faces, used to make up, so, the radiance of the gifts I received.
"The men where you live," said the little prince, "raise five thousand roses in the same garden-- and they do not find in it what they are looking for."
"They do not find it," I replied.
"And yet what they are looking for could be found in one single rose, or in a little water."
"Yes, that is true," I said.
And the little prince added:
"But the eyes are blind. One must look with the heart..."
I had drunk the water. I breathed easily. At sunrise the sand is the color of honey. And that honey color was making me happy, too. What brought me, then, this sense of grief?
"You must keep your promise," said the little prince, softly, as he sat down beside me once more.
"You know-- a muzzle for my sheep... I am responsible for this flower..."
I took my rough drafts of drawings out of my pocket. The little prince looked them over, and laughed as he said:
"Your baobabs-- they look a little like cabbages."
I had been so proud of my baobabs!
"Your fox-- his ears look a little like horns; and they are too long."
And he laughed again.
"You are not fair, little prince," I said. "I don't know how to draw anything except boa constrictors from the outside and boa constrictors from the inside."
"Oh, that will be all right," he said, "children understand."
So then I made a pencil sketch of a muzzle. And as I gave it to him my heart was torn.
"You have plans that I do not know about," I said.
But he did not answer me. He said to me, instead:
"You know-- my descent to the earth... Tomorrow will be its anniversary."
Then, after a silence, he went on:
"I came down very near here."
And he flushed.
And once again, without understanding why, I had a queer sense of sorrow. One question, however, occurred to me:
"Then it was not by chance that on the morning when I first met you-- a week ago-- you were strolling along like that, all alone, a thousand miles from any inhabited region? You were on the your back to the place where you landed?"
The little prince flushed again.
And I added, with some hesitancy:
"Perhaps it was because of the anniversary?"
The little prince flushed once more. He never answered questions-- but when one flushes does that not mean "Yes"?
"Ah," I said to him, "I am a little frightened--"
But he interrupted me.
"Now you must work. You must return to your engine. I will be waiting for you here. Come back tomorrow evening..."
But I was not reassured. I remembered the fox. One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed...
"Then you don't remember. This is not the exact spot."
Another voice must have answered him, for he replied to it:
"Yes, yes! It is the right day, but this is not the place."
I continued my walk toward the wall. At no time did I see or hear anyone. The little prince, however, replied once again:
"--Exactly. You will see where my track begins, in the sand. You have nothing to do but wait for me there. I shall be there tonight."
I was only twenty metres from the wall, and I still saw nothing.
After a silence the little prince spoke again:
"You have good poison? You are sure that it will not make me suffer too long?"
I stopped in my tracks, my heart torn asunder; but still I did not understand.
"Now go away," said the little prince. "I want to get down from the wall."
I dropped my eyes, then, to the foot of the wall-- and I leaped into the air. There before me, facing the little prince, was one of those yellow snakes that take just thirty seconds to bring your life to an end. Even as I was digging into my pocked to get out my revolver I made a running step back. But, at the noise I made, the snake let himself flow easily across the sand like the dying spray of a fountain, and, in no apparent hurry, disappeared, with a light metallic sound, among the stones.
I reached the wall just in time to catch my little man in my arms; his face was white as snow.
"What does this mean?" I demanded. "Why are you talking with snakes?"
I had loosened the golden muffler that he always wore. I had moistened his temples, and had given him some water to drink. And now I did not dare ask him any more questions. He looked at me very gravely, and put his arms around my neck. I felt his heart beating like the heart of a dying bird, shot with someone's rifle...
"I am glad that you have found what was the matter with your engine," he said. "Now you can go back home--"
"How do you know about that?"
I was just coming to tell him that my work had been successful, beyond anything that I had dared to hope.
He made no answer to my question, but he added:
"I, too, am going back home today..."
"It is much farther... it is much more difficult..."
I realised clearly that something extraordinary was happening. I was holding him close in my arms as if he were a little child; and yet it seemed to me that he was rushing headlong toward an abyss from which I could do nothing to restrain him...
His look was very serious, like some one lost far away.
"I have your sheep. And I have the sheep's box. And I have the muzzle..."
And he gave me a sad smile.
I waited a long time. I could see that he was reviving little by little.
"Dear little man," I said to him, "you are afraid..."
He was afraid, there was no doubt about that. But he laughed lightly.
"I shall be much more afraid this evening..."
Once again I felt myself frozen by the sense of something irreparable. And I knew that I could not bear the thought of never hearing that laughter any more. For me, it was like a spring of fresh water in the desert.
"Little man," I said, "I want to hear you laugh again."
But he said to me:
"Tonight, it will be a year... my star, then, can be found right above the place where I came to the Earth, a year ago..."
"Little man," I said, "tell me that it is only a bad dream-- this affair of the snake, and the meeting-place, and the star..."
But he did not answer my plea. He said to me, instead: "The thing that is important is the thing that is not seen..."
"Yes, I know..."
"It is just as it is with the flower. If you love a flower that lives on a star, it is sweet to look at the sky at night. All the stars are a-bloom with flowers..."
"Yes, I know..."
"It is just as it is with the water. Because of the pulley, and the rope, what you gave me to drink was like music. You remember-- how good it was."
"Yes, I know..."
"And at night you will look up at the stars. Where I live everything is so small that I cannot show you where my star is to be found. It is better, like that. My star will just be one of the stars, for you. And so you will love to watch all the stars in the heavens... they will all be your friends. And, besides, I am going to make you a present..."
He laughed again.
"Ah, little prince, dear little prince! I love to hear that laughter!"
"That is my present. Just that. It will be as it was when we drank the water..."
"What are you trying to say?"
"All men have the stars," he answered, "but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems. For my businessman they were wealth. But all these stars are silent. You-- you alone-- will have the stars as no one else has them--"
"What are you trying to say?"
"In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night... you-- only you-- will have stars that can laugh!"
And he laughed again.
"And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure... and your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, 'Yes, the stars always make me laugh!' And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you..."
And he laughed again.
"It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh..."
And he laughed again. Then he quickly became serious:
"Tonight-- you know... do not come," said the little prince.
"I shall not leave you," I said.
"I shall look as if I were suffering. I shall look a little as if I were dying. It is like that. Do not come to see that. It is not worth the trouble..."
"I shall not leave you."
But he was worried.
"I tell you-- it is also because of the snake. He must not bite you. Snakes-- they are malicious creatures. This one might bite you just for fun..."
"I shall not leave you."
But a thought came to reassure him:
"It is true that they have no more poison for a second bite."
That night I did not see him set out on his way. He got away from me without making a sound. When I succeeded in catching up with him he was walking along with a quick and resolute step. He said to me merely:
"Ah! You are there..."
And he took me by the hand. But he was still worrying.
"It was wrong of you to come. You will suffer. I shall look as if I were dead; and that will not be true..."
I said nothing.
"You understand... it is too far. I cannot carry this body with me. It is too heavy."
I said nothing.
"But it will be like an old abandoned shell. There is nothing sad about old shells..."
I said nothing.
He was a little discouraged. But he made one more effort:
"You know, it will be very nice. I, too, shall look at the stars. All the stars will be wells with a rusty pulley. All the stars will pour out fresh water for me to drink..."
I said nothing.
"That will be so amusing! You will have five hundred million little bells, and I shall have five hundred million springs of fresh water..."
And he too said nothing more, becuase he was crying...
"Here it is. Let me go on by myself."
And he sat down, because he was afraid. Then he said, again:
"You know-- my flower... I am responsible for her. And she is so weak! She is so nave! She has four thorns, of no use at all, to protect herself against all the world..."
I too sat down, because I was not able to stand up any longer.
"There now-- that is all..."
He still hesitated a little; then he got up. He took one step. I could not move.
There was nothing but a flash of yellow close to his ankle. He remained motionless for an instant. He did not cry out. He fell as gently as a tree falls. There was not even any sound, because of the sand.
I have never yet told this story. The companions who met me on my return were well content to see me alive. I was sad, but I told them: "I am tired."
Now my sorrow is comforted a little. That is to say-- not entirely. But I know that he did go back to his planet, because I did not find his body at daybreak. It was not such a heavy body... and at night I love to listen to the stars. It is like five hundred million little bells...
But there is one extraordinary thing... when I drew the muzzle for the little prince, I forgot to add the leather strap to it. He will never have been able to fasten it on his sheep. So now I keep wondering: what is happening on his planet? Perhaps the sheep has eaten the flower...
At one time I say to myself: "Surely not! The little prince shuts his flower under her glass globe every night, and he watches over his sheep very carefully..." Then I am happy. And there is sweetness in the laughter of all the stars.
But at another time I say to myself: "At some moment or other one is absent-minded, and that is enough! On some one evening he forgot the glass globe, or the sheep got out, without making any noise, in the night..." And then the little bells are changed to tears...
Here, then, is a great mystery. For you who also love the little prince, and for me, nothing in the universe can be the same if somewhere, we do not know where, a sheep that we never saw has-- yes or no?-- eaten a rose...
Look up at the sky. Ask yourselves: is it yes or no? Has the sheep eaten the flower? And you will see how everything changes...
And no grown-up will ever understand that this is a matter of so much importance!
This is, to me, the loveliest and saddest landscape in the world. It is the same as that on the preceding page, but I have drawn it again to impress it on your memory. It is here that the little prince appeared on Earth, and disappeared.
Look at it carefully so that you will be sure to recognise it in case you travel some day to the African desert. And, if you should come upon this spot, please do not hurry on. Wait for a time, exactly under the star. Then, if a little man appears who laughs, who has golden hair and who refuses to answer questions, you will know who he is. If this should happen, please comfort me. Send me word that he has come back.